Essential Architecture-  Paris

Basilique Saint-Denis

architect

Abbot Suger (1081-1155)

location

Saint-Denis, now a northern suburb of Paris.

date

1136

style

Rayonnant Gothic. The church is an architectural landmark as it was the first major structure partially built in the Gothic style , although only part of the original Gothic ambulatory at the chevet, or east end remains.

construction

masonry. The church is also important architecturally due to the fact that it is considered the first church built in the Rayonnant style.  Among other innovative features at St. Denis are the stained glass windows in the chevet, the rose window on the facade, and the statue columns (now destroyed but known from Montfauchon's drawings) flanking the portals on the west facade.

type

Church
 
  West façade of Saint Denis
 
  Marie-Antoinette's Tomb, basilique Saint-Denis.
 
  Depiction of the Trinity over the main entrance
 
  The rose window
 
  The nave
 
  Detail from the 12th-c. Life of Christ window
 
  Tomb of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne
   
The Basilica of Saint Denis (French: Basilique de Saint-Denis, or simply Basilique Saint-Denis) is the burial site of almost all the French monarchs. Saved and restored by the architect Viollet le Duc, the basilica is located in Saint-Denis, now a northern suburb of Paris.

It was not used for the coronations of kings, this role being designated to the Cathedral of Reims; however, Queens were commonly crowned there.

Saint Denis is a patron saint of France and, according to legend, was the first bishop of Paris. A shrine was erected at his burial place. There Dagobert I, king of the Franks, who reigned from 628 to 637, founded the Abbey of Saint Denis, a Benedictine monastery. The shrine itself was created by Eligius, a goldsmith by training. It was described in the early vita of Saint Eligius:

Above all, Eligius fabricated a mausoleum for the holy martyr Denis in the city of Paris with a wonderful marble ciborium over it marvelously decorated with gold and gems. He composed a crest [at the top of a tomb] and a magnificent frontal and surrounded the throne of the altar with golden axes in a circle. He placed golden apples there, round and jeweled. He made a pulpit and a gate of silver and a roof for the throne of the altar on silver axes. He made a covering in the place before the tomb and fabricated an outside altar at the feet of the holy martyr. So much industry did he lavish there, at the king's request, and poured out so much that scarcely a single ornament was left in Gaul and it is the greatest wonder of all to this very day. 
None of this work survives.

Architecture


The northwest nave of Saint Denis at sunset


The church is an architectural landmark as it was the first major structure partially built in the Gothic style , although only part of the original Gothic ambulatory at the chevet, or east end remains. The narthex of the Gothic church was begun in 1136 and finished in 1140 by the Abbot Suger (1081-1155). The choir was begun in 1140 and was consecrated on the 11th of June 1144 after only four years of work. The majority of the present day structure, however, is a later construction that was begun in 1231 in the Rayonnant Gothic style. The church is also important architecturally due to the fact that it is considered the first church built in the Rayonnant style.  Among other innovative features at St. Denis are the stained glass windows in the chevet, the rose window on the facade, and the statue columns (now destroyed but known from Montfauchon's drawings) flanking the portals on the west facade.

Burial site
The abbey is where the kings of France and their families were buried for centuries and is therefore often referred to as the "royal necropolis of France". All but three of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here. The abbey church contains some fine examples of cadaver tombs. The effigies of many of the kings and queens are on their tombs, but during the French Revolution, these tombs were opened by workers under orders from revolutionary officials. The bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby. Archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir saved many of the monuments from the same revolutionary officials by claiming them as artworks for his Museum of French Monuments.

The bodies of the beheaded King Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette of Austria, and his sister Madame Élisabeth were not initially buried in Saint Denis. They were buried in the churchyard of the Madeleine and covered with quicklime. The body of the Dauphin, who died of an illness, was buried in an unmarked grave in a Parisian churchyard near the Temple.

Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church in 1806, but the royal remains were left in their mass-graves. Following Napoleon's first exile to Elba, the Bourbons briefly returned to power. They ordered a search for the corpses of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the few remains, a few bones that were presumably the king's and a clump of greyish matter containing a lady's garter, were found on January 21, 1815, brought to Saint Denis and buried in the crypt. In 1817 the mass-graves containing all the other remains were opened but it was impossible to distinguish any one from the collection of bones. The remains were therefore placed in an ossuary in St. Denis' crypt, behind two marble plates with the names of the hundreds of members of the succeeding French Dynasties that were interred in the church duly recorded.

King Louis XVIII, on his death in 1824, was buried in the center of the crypt, near the graves of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The coffins of members of the royal Family that died in between 1815 and 1830 were also placed in the vaults. Under the direction of architect Viollet-le-Duc, famous for his work on Notre-Dame de Paris, the monuments that were taken to the Museum of French Monuments were returned to the church. The corpse of King Louis VII, who had been buried at the Abbey at Saint-Pont and whose tomb had not been touched by the revolutionaries, was brought to St. Denis and buried in the crypt. In 2004 the mummified heart of the Dauphin, the boy that would have been Louis XVII, was sealed into the wall of the crypt.

Tombs
All but three of the Kings of France who ruled since A.D. 496 are buried in the Saint Denis Basilica. The most prominent are:

Tomb of Charles Martel, Basilique Saint-Denis.
Charles I of Naples (or Anjou), Basilique Saint-Denis.Clovis I (465 - 511)
Childebert I (496 - 558)
Arégonde (c.515 - c.573)
Fredegonde (Wife of Chilperic I of Neustria) (? - 597)
Dagobert I (603 - 639)
Clovis II (635 - 657)
Charles Martel (686 - 741)
Pippin the Younger (714 - 768) and his wife Bertrada of Laon (726-783)
Carloman I King of the Franks (c.751 - 771)
Henri I in background, Robert II, Jean I d. 1316 and Jeanne d. 1349Charles the Bald (823 - 877) (his monument was melted down) and his wife, Ermentrude of Orléans (823 - 869)
Carloman (866 - 884)
Robert II the Pious (972–1031) and Constance of Arles (c. 986 - 1032)
Henry I of France (1008-1060)
Louis VI of France (1081-1137)
Louis VII of France (1120-1180) and Constance of Castile (1141-1160)
Philip II Augustus (1180-1223)
Charles I of Naples (1226 - 1285), king of the Two Sicilies (1266-85). An effigy covers his heart burial.
Philip III the Bold (1245 - 1285)
Philip IV the Fair (1268 - 1315) and Isabella of Aragon (1247 – 1271)
Leo V of Armenia (1342 - 1393)
Tomb of Leon V of Armenia, in the Basilique Saint-Denis, France.Francis I of France (1494 - 1547)
Henry II of France (1519 - 1559) and Catherine de' Medici (1519 – 1589)
Francis II of France (1544 – 1560)
Charles IX of France (1550-1574) (no monument)
Henry III of France (1551 -1589) (heart burial monument)
Henry IV of France (1553 - 1610)
Louis XIV of France (1638 – 1715)
Louis XV of France (1710 – 1774),
Louis XVI of France (1754 – 1793) and Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793)
Louis XVII of France (1785 - 1795)
Louis XVIII of France (1755 - 1824)

Tomb of Philippe le Bel in the Saint Denis Basilica.
Fulrad, Abbot of Saint-Denis

Notes
^ Vita S. Eligius, edited by Levison, on-line at Medieval Sourcebook
^ H. Honour and J. Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005. ISBN 0-13-193507-0
^ It has been argued (most recently by architectural historian Dan Cruickshank in "Britain's Best Buildings" for the BBC) that Durham Cathedral, as well as being a superb example of Romanesque architecture, also contains the first evidence of Gothic design. The nave at Durham contains pointed traverses and pointed arches while flying buttresses in the form of quadrant arches are concealed over the aisles - the main elements of Gothic, 20 years before this style was seen elsewhere in Europe.

References
Saint-Denis Cathedral, Alain Erlande-Brandenburg, Editions Ouest-France, Rennes

links

Detailed list of members of the French Royal families buried in Saint Denis Basilica
L'Internaute Magazine: Diaporama (French)
Satellite image from Google Maps
Saint-Denis, a town in the Middle Ages
Tombs and Basilic pictures (French)
www.essential-architecture.com